Football Hall of Fame member and actor Merin Olsen has died. His death was announced by his brother, Orrin, who said that he’d been being treated for mesothelioma.
After a successful time playing college football, Olsen began playing for the Los Angeles Rams in 1962 as part of the National Football League. He was one of the leading defensive players of his era and missed only two games in his 15 years with the NFL. Following his time on the field, Olsen went to work as a commentator for NBC throughout 1980s.
Olsen dabbled in acting while playing football and in 1969 acted opposite John Wayne and Rock Hudson in The Undefeated.
In 1977, Victor French left Little House on the Prairie to do his own show, the Carter Country sitcom. To replace him as Michael Landon’s on-screen friend, Olsen joined the cast as Jonathan Garvey. After four years, he left the series to star in another Landon-produced show, Father Murphy. That lasted just two seasons on NBC.
Olsen starred in two other 1980s series — Fathers and Sons and Aaron’s Way — but neither lasted very long. The former football player was also well known to TV viewers for being the commercial spokesperson for FTD Florists and for co-hosting the Children’s Miracle Network telethons.
Olsen was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009 and underwent several rounds of chemotherapy. In January of this year, Olsen and his wife filed a lawsuit against various paint and manufacturing companies, as well as NBC Studios, NBC Universal, and Twentieth Century Fox, for exposing him to asbestos both as a youth and as an adult.
Part of the lawsuit reads “Merlin Olsen is undergoing chemotherapy and intends to fight the asbestos cancer with all of his will and strength. In the average case, mesothelioma takes a patient’s life within a year of diagnosis.”